Preliminary Details - showing photos of the guitar, prior to restoration, as it came to me.
- and quickly Reserved as provisional pre-order for a customer on the Essex coast, pending completion of the restoration.
There is limited information on the "La Habanera" model on the Harmony Guitars Database, which reads....
"All birch, black and red body, open head tuners, "pearlette" fingerboard. "La Habanera" dance from "Carmen" pictured on top. A later model have a plain head, "crystaline" painted fingerboard. A spruce/mahogany similar model was available under model # 209 from Sears & Roebuck catalog (see Supertone brand)."
....but it is just the last sentence which identifies this guitar, in the absence of any internal labels, or the usual internal Harmony model & date ink stamps. I can possibly detect slight markings which may have been these, but the inside face of the Mahogany back is so dark, they no longer show.
This is an unusual and interesting guitar, which if correctly identified, was one of the number of models Harmony reproduced/re-worked for Sears under their Supertone brand. I have only seen one, in the hand, before and that was the more basic all Birch model, and despite the Harmony Guitars Database giving a dating of 1931, if I recall correctly that other example carried a 1935 date stamp, so it would not surprise me at all if this one also dated from the mid-1930s.
Stock Number - VTG1370.
This superb vintage guitar is the fixed bridge type, rather than the floating bridge/tailpiece configuration so frequently used on parlor guitars in the 1930s.
It has great looks, lots of vibe and historic all-American character - a superb sounding parlor blues guitar, which can be set up for finger-style or for bottleneck playing - an iconic Chicago made, 12 fret-to-the-body, parlor Blues Guitar - uprated, high-end, all solid Spruce top & Mahogany back & sides, ladder braced construction, with not only the deco/stencil depiction of "La Habanera" dance from "Carmen" pictured on top, but also intricate banded, multi-coloured marquetry purfling to the black/cream edged top & soundhole bindings...a really attractive adornment to a high-quality guitar!
The guitar is more true to the original parlor size, than he slightly larger template which carried forward to the post-war "parlors" which Harmony made, particular the many variants of the Stella, with the same 615mm./24.25" Scale Length, but a 47.5mm./1.875" nut, wider than the more typical 44.5mm./1.75" of the later "parlors", same overall length of 36.25"/92.7cm., narrower 12.75"/32.4cm body width lower bout and upper bout of 9.125"/23.2cm., but slightly longer body length of 18.25"/46.4cm., body depth front - 3.125"/7.9cm., rear - 3.625"/9.2cm.
If you are an acoustic blues player and wonder why that top line guitar you bought doesn't sound authentic when you play blues like those of Blind Blake, Blind Willie McTell, or Blind Lemon Jefferson, I can tell you why it doesn't and never will! All of those guys and many others from the 30s through to the 60s played Birch bodied guitars, some of them with Spruce tops, some all Birch, but it is the Birch which gives that unmistakable sound. No guitar made today, American or otherwise can give you that sound, for Delta and Country Blues!
If you want a fully functioning, great sounding piece of American musical history, this is it - a really exceptional addition to any collection of Blues/Vintage Guitars.
I have not been able to unearth any photos of this uprated Supertone version of "La Habanera", but as far as I can tell, this guitar is all original, but now with a question mark in my mind about the machineheads/tuners....see below. This originality will be maintained as far as possible in the restoration process, but it is clear that some replacements are needed. These will be carried out in materials/design as close as possible to the original.
Following further consideration, with the luthier I work with, it is clear that the original fingerboard is not only separating from the neck, but is so heavily worn as to be beyond restoration, and that the original bridge, which is split, will also have to be replaced. A new Ebony fingerboard is on order, and a replacement bridge will individually purpose-made to the same pattern as the original, possibly also in Ebony, but certainly of a suitable quality hardwood.
The overall condition is pretty good for an 80 year old guitar. Inevitably there is overall cosmetic wear and ageing, including loss of finish/colour to areas, mainly to the top below the soundhole....honest play wear! The stencil decorated areas show some surface finish crazing, as you would expect.
Structurally things seem pretty good also. Apart from the crack running through the bridge pin holes, which means that we will be making a replacement, there are a couple of small cracks in the side/ribs of the guitar, and a very slight opening of the rear seam. Again, after further consideration with the luthier, we clearly need to remove the back, both in order to securely re-glue it, but also in order to open up access to repair, or really mainly reinforce, the side cracks, in order to prevent them becoming more serious than the current barely visible condition. This also has the great advantage of enabling us to check all the bracings & carry out any additional work found to be needed.
The neck joint has again been re-checked and is stable & may indeed have been reset in the past. The replacement Ebony fingerboard will be fitted so as to provide the best possible angle, and new frets installed. I can't be absolutely sure at this stage, but assume that it will also be necessary to replace the original bone nut, with a new purpose-made one. I will also need to call on the luthier's advice/assistance regarding the retention/replacement of fingerboard inlays & refixing the original black/white binding.
The 3-on-a-strip tuners/machineheads had been assumed to be the originals and appear fully functioning. They are certainly of considerable age, but pending further inspection/investigation I am now reserving judgement about originality. They will be checked over & cleaned, although they actually show minimal age-related discolouration, before a decision is made as to whether they can be retained, or whether it would be prefereable to replace with the appropriate model "Golden Age" repro set produced by Stewmac. There is no intention to do any finish restoration at all, merely to clean where needed and allow the superbly aged guitar to shine.
On completion of the fingerboard re-alignment, bridge repair/replacement, and any other work found to be necessary, we will be looking to set the guitar up with an action of around 3mm. at the 12th. fret, which with just a tad more string height at the nut/first fret in order to aid bottleneck play, I reckon is ideal for a Stella "all-rounder", good for Bottleneck play, but with fretting aided by the shorter scale length and consequent lower string tension, therefore ideal for a mixture of finger-style and bottleneck play.
Additionally it could also be used for full-time slide with a nut riser costing no more than a few pounds. The sound is typically loud and pokey, just as a Stella should be - a great Bluesy voice! It has "That Sound" in spades - even, woody, bright, clear, ringing tone! Unless otherwise requested, it will be strung with Martin Bronze Light 12-54 strings, and really sounds tremendous - and loud!
There is included what appears to be the original pressed fibreboard case, with old but temporary stitching repairs to seems, other damage & non-funtioning catches, or alternatively I may be able to supply it with a specially fitted Hiscox Liteflite hardshell case. These cases of course do offer much better protection, but even the smallest case produced by Hiscox does require a couple of their extra internal pads fitting, in order to hold the small guitar correctly. I will be happy to advise whether I can marry the guitar to a suitable case, at the time of purchase, and if so agree with you an inclusive price for Guitar + Case.